First, props to Missouri on this:

Modifications to the bill must be approved by the House before becoming law, but the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has already begun increasing yellow signal timing with very positive results. In Arnold, the first city in the Show Me state to use automated ticketing machines, yellow timing was increased from 4.0 to 5.0 seconds at three intersections along Missouri Route 141 on February 24. Smaller changes were made on April 15, including a boost from 4.0 to 4.4 seconds at northbound 141 and US 61/67, a 4.0 to 4.5 second change at northbound US 61/67 at Rockport School, and from 4.0 to 4.7 seconds at southbound Vogel Road at Richardson Road (4.3 seconds at the northbound approach).

The impact of the longer yellow at red light camera monitored locations was felt immediately. In January, before any signal timing had been changed, American Traffic Solutions recorded 875 alleged violations in the city of Arnold. At the end of April, that figure fell 70 percent to just 266. Jefferson County Councilman Bob Boyer obtained the ATS statistics after learning that MoDOT had extended the yellow times.

“This recent bit of information goes further to prove the point that there are other safety measures that can be implemented if safety, not money, is the focus,” Boyer said.

Whenever you talk about lengthening yellow lights, there’s always somebody that says that people will simply adjust. And sometimes people will. But study after study has suggested that in the aggregate, longer yellow lights reduce lightrunning as well as accidents. They also reduce revenue, which is part of the problem. So congratulations to Missouri for getting this right.

On the other hand

[I]n Missouri, it is common that municipal prosecutors will regularly “amend” moving traffic violations, which incur points against one’s driver’s license and potentially raise car insurance rates, to non-moving violations which do not incur said points and insurance rate hikes. Of course, the prosecutor only does so under two conditions:

1) The fine for the “amended” violation is exorbitant compared to the moving violation fine–and compared to the usual fine for the actual non-moving violation, and

2) The victim–er, ticketed person–must have hired legal representation for the prosecutor to negotiate the amended complaint. (Non-lawyers, don’t try representing yourself. Prosecutors won’t do it. I tried…once upon a time when I was younger, drove less carefully, less wise, didn’t inhale, etc.)

Now, one may counter that this behavior is not “extortion” because it is not illegal for the prosecutor to negotiate an amended charge as part of a plea bargain, nor is the prosecutor directly benefiting from the extorted fees. However, this activity is a plea bargain only in the most superficial sense, since a miniscule percentage of moving violations are ever actually contested with a not-guilty plea to begin with and individuals engaging in this ‘bargain’ have no intent to contest the moving violation. In a game theoretic, it’s almost never a credible threat so there is virtually no chance court time will be used or the alleged criminal will go unpunished. And while the prosecutor may not directly pocket the huge fines, those fines comprise a non-trivial portion of many municipalities’ revenues, which do flow back in part to the prosecutor’s budget.

This is not entirely unlike what they’re doing in Delosa, wherein you can avoid having your ticket turned over to your insurance company under certain circumstances. This makes people less likely to contest, but also helps them skirt state laws about how much revenue a town can get from tickets (they can “only” get a third of overall revenue from traffic enforcement). On the one hand, this is great because it helps you keep a clean driving record. On the other hand, it allows them to write up more tickets. In the case of Missouri, it sounds like an odd freebie for lawyers.

As I’ve mentioned before, I got out of a ticket for which I was dead guilty by hiring a lawyer once. If a lawyer knows what they’re doing, they can make it not worth their trouble. Trying to defend yourself, though, is pretty foolish.


Category: Courthouse, Road

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8 Responses to TBH: Missouri Edition

  1. DaveinHackensack says:

    Guess it depends on the state. Hiring a lawyer here (in NJ) would most likely cost more than the price of the ticket. And, in my experience, if you just bother to show up in court, the prosecutor will volunteer to knock 2 points off if you plead guilty (so a 2 point violation becomes a no point violation).

    Extending yellow lights isn’t a bad idea though.

  2. trumwill says:

    It cost me the price of the ticket in Colosse, too, but it saved me from having it show up on my driving record.

    There is a line of thinking that you should challenge a ticket in hopes that the cop doesn’t show. In which case, hiring a lawyer is a waste. I remember a judge of a large municipality outside of Colosse who said “Go ahead and roll the dice with that if you want to. But don’t you dare make me assemble a jury for it. If you do that, I will send my bailiff out to retrieve the officer.” Which suggests that there’s something to it.

    With the exception of absentee cops, I’ve never heard of defending yourself turning out well.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    NJ being NJ, when the state got wind of how many people were plea bargaining in order to avoid points, invented a brand new violation for people to plea down to. Of course, this new violation was a hell of a lot more expensive than any other violation on the books.

    In other words, NJ didn’t care that the judicial system was being made into a mockery; but god forbid they didn’t get to wet their beaks…

  4. trumwill says:

    New Jersey really reminds me of Louisiana, at times.

  5. DaveinHackensack says:

    “NJ being NJ, when the state got wind of how many people were plea bargaining in order to avoid points, invented a brand new violation for people to plea down to. Of course, this new violation was a hell of a lot more expensive than any other violation on the books.”

    Maybe that happened since I last got a moving violation (it’s been years).

    “New Jersey really reminds me of Louisiana, at times.”

    That comparison’s been made before. Governor Christie has taken on some of the corruption, but every time he turns over a rock, you wonder why none of his predecessors did.

  6. DaveinHackensack says:

    BTW, re driving and NJ: it used to be that one of NJ’s saving graces was relatively low gas prices, but this year, we’ve been pretty close to the national average.

  7. Mike Hunt says:

    @5

    The new violation went on the books in July of 2004.

    Between the fine itself, court costs, and surcharges, you will pay $429 in order to avoid points on your license. At that amount, I think you are better off just taking the two points, especially if they are your first two.

  8. DaveinHackensack says:

    “Between the fine itself, court costs, and surcharges, you will pay $429 in order to avoid points on your license.”

    Wow, that’s pretty steep. Last time, I paid ~$100 or less.

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